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Gedaliah Kaplan (New York)

THE TYPHUS EPIDEMIC

1915-1916

[Photo: Gedaliah Kaplan]

        Illness and disease always accompany wars and catastrophes. A few weeks after the arrival of the Germans in Drohitchin, a horrible typhus epidemic broke out in town. It spread like wildfire from house to house, and attacked both young and old. The close proximity, and especially the crowding of the homes like sardines help the Angel of Death to accomplish his work (one fourth of the city was affected).

        The Germans feared for their own lives, and during the first days of the epidemic, they marked the houses where the fatal illness had struck, and wouldn't let anyone in or out. However, this was of no use, since the disease spread further each day.

        Finally, the German authorities took over three Jewish houses in the alley near the church (that leads toward the new gardens), and set up a temporary field hospital, which was surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and thereby isolated the patients from the outside world.

        The hospital staff was headed by Shimon Weissman, Aharon Lasovsky (from Pinsk) as folk surgeons; Solka Weissman, Reizel Baum, Feiga Rachel Warshavsky, Meita Trashinsky and others were the "nurses," as well as several Jewish young men who the Germans brought out from Kobrin to work as medics. Tordos Leib Milner and I were the administrators of the hospital. The German doctor, naturally, had the last word in the hospital, and the rest of us had to follow along.

        As stated, the field hospital was isolated and cut off from the town. Without special permission from the Germans, no one dared to leave or enter the hospital. Similarly, no one was allowed into town any further than the bridge. Anyone violating this prohibition was saddled with a large fine. I was an exception, and could go in and out of town freely because I was responsible for bringing ill people from town to the hospital, and for taking the healthy patients home, as well as providing the patients with prescription medicine from the only pharmacy in Telechan.

        We made every effort to try to save the typhus sufferers, who arrived every day in greater numbers to the hospital. The Germans didn't care much about human life: if someone didn't show signs of a rapid recovery, the German doctor tried to give the patient a large dose of morphine to shorten his life. We ignored the doctor's orders, however. As soon as the German doctor would leave the hospital, we would go over to the patients whose life the doctor gave up on, and work as long as necessary until the patient opened his eyes.

        A similar situation occurred involving Rachel Waldman. who the German doctor wanted to take off to the morgue (located in Naftali Steinberg's house). When the German doctor left the hospital, I and others put Waldman in a hot bath and put ice-cold compresses on her head until Rachel

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opened her eyes. The next morning, the German doctor was surprised to find Rachel Waldman alive, but didn't dare to know the secret.

        A similar situation occurred with Yaakov Chacham (Rosenstein) who the doctor gave up on. The truth was that Yaakov Chacham was already half-dead, but we didn't give up hope. At night we sent for the doctor, Shimon Weissman and Rosenstein's family. (who we smuggled through the German patrol as patients for the hospital). We worked on the patient all night long, applying ice-cold compresses to his head, wrapping him in sheets, until Rosenstein finally opened his eyes and asked to eat something. This is how we managed to save many Jewish lives from certain death.

[Photo:] The staff of the Isolation Hospital during the typhus epidemic in 1915 in Drohitchin. First row from right: Aharon Lasovsky (folk surgeon), a German doctor, Shimon "the doctor" Weissman and another German. Second row from right to left: Todres Leib Milner, Dora from Brisk, Solka Weissman-Wasserman, Reizel Baum-Shoshanov, Feiga Rachel Warshavsky-Kotler, Meita Trashinsky and Gedaliah Kaplan. Third row, from right: Rosenblatt (a Jewish prisoner-of-war of the Germans), Moshe Perkovitsky, a non-Jewish prisoner-of-war, and Pesach, Berl Rim. [sic] son-in-law.

SEEING DEATH BEFORE OUR EYES

        
It happened on an early morning in February, 1919. A unit of Polish soldiers and officers suddenly arrived and dragged a large number of Jews out of bed, ordering them to start dancing. Afterwards they cruelly beat those Jews to reveal where the Bolsheviks were located. Finally the Poles brought the Jews to Eisenstein's Wall and stood them against the wall to shoot them.

        I can still hear the wailing and shouting. Each one of them recited the confessionals, waiting to die in cold blood. I was also standing in the line, and survived those awful moments, seeing death before my eyes. However, there was one soldier with a human heart who fell at the feet of the squad-officer and begged him not to shoot innocent people. His pleas did no good. The Polish officers simply wanted to shoot a few hundred Jews.

        Suddenly there was a loud crashing sound of a cannon behind the town. The Bolsheviks were attacking. The soldiers became frightened, left us and ran away wherever they could. Miraculously we were saved from an awful death.

        A few hours later, the Bolsheviks arrived, took over Drohitchin and brought in law and order. However, they wanted to sentence me to death because I was a representative of the Polish government. There was someone who was my enemy and reported me to the Bolshevik authorities. I fled in the middle of the night through the forests and fields, running for miles until I got to the small town of Khomsk, where some fine people hid me in their attic. I stayed there until the Bolsheviks left Drohitchin. Then after great effort and hardship I arrived in the United States.


Gedaliah Kaplan
David Eisenstein (Chicago)


SELF-DEFENSE

1918

[Photo:] David Eisenstein


        As soon as the German occupation government left Drohitchin in 1918, and the town was left without any civilian government or police. the rabbi and his congregants called a meeting to develop plans to protect Drohitchin from possible attacks from various terror groups, which had started sprouting like mushrooms after a rainfall.

        A local committee was organized without extensive arguments; it was a type of local government made up of local community businessmen and Rabbi A. Y. Kolenkovich as the chairman. The rabbi took on the responsibility for the local leadership. The meeting was held in the house of Chaikel Miller.

        The first task of the committee was to create a Jewish self-defense militia; it wasn't a difficult task at all because every young Jewish man, married and unmarried, felt the duty to serve in the self-defense unit.

        The Jewish militia, which for all intents and purposes served as a police force, was made up of the following young men: David Eisenstein, Yudel Trashinsky, Asher Schwarzbard, Chaim Lev, Baruch Kakhler and Motya Yakhnes. The headquarters of the self-defense unit was located in the church, and the weapon depot was located at the home of Alter Goldberg, the merchant.

        The question of money then arose. They needed money to buy weapons and other local needs. The committee imposed a tax on all the Jews in town; families that had their own son in the self-defense unit paid less than those who weren't participating in it. Everyone had to pay something, however.

        Actually, in Drohitchin there were enough weapons because of what the Germans had left behind. However, one day a group of Bolsheviks came along and ordered that anyone who had weapons had to bring them to the Bolsheviks, who left a small number of weapons for the self-defense unit. This wasn't sufficient, and we needed money to buy more.

        Some well-to-do businessmen wanted to get out of paying the tax, but the committee used their authority to force them to pay their share. It would be useful to recount an event that occurred relating to this.

        The committee determined that Yankel Chacham (Rosenstein) had to pay a tax of 1000 rubles because no one in his family was serving in the self-defense unit, and because everyone knew he could afford to pay. However, Rosenstein remained obstinate, and refused to pay.

        One Saturday night a few members of the committee came to Rosenstein's house with the militia, and ordered him to pay the tax. Rosenstein broke open a windowpane, and screamed. In the meantime, the militia noticed Yankel's daughter running into a room and slamming the door shut.

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